Tobacco Tug-of-War

Cigarette makers seek clarification, get slammed for nicotine increase

WASHINGTON -- Even as the cigarette industry took it on the chin this past week for increasing nicotine content, five of the largest cigarette manufacturers sought a U.S. judge's OK to continue marketing light and low tar cigarettes overseas.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., British American Tobacco Ltd., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc. argued Thursday that they can continue business as usual overseas, according to an Associated Press report. They asked U.S. District [image-nocss] Judge Gladys Kessler to let them keep advertising low tar and light cigarettes to international smokers, even though the judge says those labels are misleading.

"Banning the use of the low-tar descriptors in foreign countries would be an unwarranted intrusion upon the right of these countries to regulate cigarette sales within their own borders," attorneys wrote.

This past month, Kessler ordered the same cigarette manufacturers to publicize the dangers of smoking and to stop marketing some cigarettes as healthier than others.

Prohibiting such marketing would put U.S. cigarette companies at an unfair disadvantage in the international market, the tobacco companies' attorneys said. Overseas markets represent a growth area for cigarette sales, tobacco executives have said.

The companies also say overseas markets should be exempt from the court order requiring them to post signs in stores saying cigarettes are dangerous and addictive and that tobacco companies have manipulated them to deliver nicotine to smokers.

"Only an industry that has survived for 50 years by deceiving the American public on a continuing and regular basis would have trouble complying with an order that tells them to simply tell the truth," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-free kids, told AP.

The request follows a Massachusetts Department of Public Health report that found nicotine levels in cigarettes have risen about 10% in the past six years, making it harder to quit and easier to get hooked.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who called for legislation prohibiting companies from boosting nicotine levels, cast Thursday's court filing as an adaptive move by the industry.

"Big tobacco may be forced to clean up its act in the United States, so they're clearly looking to continue their deceptions in large markets overseas," Lautenberg said.

Tobacco companies said in court papers that they were preparing to ask Kessler to put her entire ruling on hold until they could appeal.

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